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Why coping with all the Christmas cheer can get under our skin

Published 15/12/2015

Difficult time: Elaine Simpson
Difficult time: Elaine Simpson
Hard times: Joanne O’Neill faces challenges at Christmas

Rich food and wintry weather can often mean misery for those with skin conditions. Stephanie Bell talks to two women who say festivities are not fun.

It is the season when most of us can just kick back with family, indulge and enjoy the festivities, but for thousands who suffer from serious skin conditions, Christmas can be like negotiating a minefield.

Rich foods, central heating, seasonal clothes and even something as simple as putting up the Christmas tree can lead to misery for people with eczema and psoriasis.

Living with either condition is difficult at any time of the year, but tragically for sufferers, the winter, and especially Christmas, can lead to a worsening of their conditions, making for a gloomy festive period.

Psoriasis affects 2-3% of the population, while one in 10 adults and one in two children have eczema.

Kate Middleton, Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt and Jade Jagger are just a handful of the celebrities who suffer with eczema, while stars such as LeAnn Rimes, Jon Lovitz, Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian live with psoriasis.

Kim Kardashian announced on TV she had psoriasis and talked about the difficulties she faced as a model suffering from an unsightly skin problem. She said: "People don't understand the pressure on me to look perfect."

We talk to two women who describe just how difficult life can be for those who live with serious skin conditions, especially at this time of the year.

'I believe I got cancer from using sunbeds to try to control psoriasis'

Elaine Simpson (41) from Glengormley has lived with psoriasis since her teens. Elaine learnt to heal herself through diet and is currently writing a book to help other sufferers. She works as a partnership manager with Age NI and has one daughter, Leanne McDowell (20), who is the current Miss Northern Ireland. She says:

When I was 15 and at high school I developed psoriasis and it took over my life.

At one point I would have been in hospital three times a week because the flare ups were so bad.

In fact it was so bad I wanted to leave school. You were always very aware of people looking at you and you felt embarrassed.

It did make me depressed as a teenager.

I would have gone to hospital for UVB light therapy treatment and I spent thousands over the years on lotions and potions.

I actually got skin cancer eight years ago which I believe is because I used sunbeds to try and control the psoriasis. Thankfully they were able to operate and take it away and I have been clear of it ever since. When you have psoriasis your skin sheds every two to three days whereas for everybody else it is every 28 days.

Your skin can be red and raw and I hated even looking at my hands. This time of the year is really bad as the cold can cause nasty flare-ups and at Christmas with all the rich foods and alcohol it can be very hard for people with psoriasis.

I have found that caffeine is a major trigger. Christmas can be quite miserable and the only good thing is that because it is winter you can cover up.

In my teens I was so self-conscious that I became very anti-social and didn't want to go out. It was hard too in school during sports having to get changed or going to the swimming pool because you didn't want people to see your skin.

It really was quite horrific.

It took over my life and in my 20s I decided I couldn’t live with it anymore and I needed to do something. I believe that you can heal yourself and I started to research natural remedies and developed an alkaline diet which has more or less cured me.

In the past 20 years I’ve only had a couple of flare ups and I am now writing a book to help people. I found that an alkaline diet caused less inflammation and it really works for me. It was the start of the healing process for me and within weeks I was clear.

People have told me that you can’t get rid of it, but I know you can heal yourself because I have done it. I now live my life to the full. I really admired Kim Kardashian for talking about her battle with psoriasis on her TV show.

I think it is a wake-up call that she’s just a regular person like the rest of us. I mightn’t have her lifestyle, but I certainly share the same challenge she does with this skin disease.

I thank Kim for being so honest about how she felt on the reality show and her evidence of how it made her feel and even tweeting about the condition. When I tell people I have it they say they would never know — that’s because I control it very well.

I now help others by sharing my top tips and giving out factsheets and support when I can.

I now live psoriasis free with a healthy lifestyle and I just urge people to seek out help and control psoriasis and other skin problems rather than suffer in silence.”

'Some years I don't put a Christmas tree up because of the dust'

Joanne O'Neill (33) from Aghadowey is a Home Economics teacher at Magherafelt High School and has had eczema since birth. She has learnt over the years what triggers her condition and has adapted her life to try and protect herself from painful and unsightly flare-ups. She finds Christmas difficult, but has learnt to accept the challenges which the festive season presents to her because of her eczema. She says:

Even my Christmas party night last weekend with work was difficult. It is the simple things, like not being able to wash your hands when you got to the toilet, and then you have to be careful that people don't see you not washing your hands, so that they don't think you are dirty.

I can't use the soap as that could make my eczema flare up and then the water and the hot dryer are just too painful.

I can't do fake tans either. I had one once and I was covered in patches all over my body which looked like cigarette burns.

I don't begrudge others their spray tans, but for me it's just not an option.

The only blessing on a night out is that it is dark and hopefully people can't see my hands which are cracked and sore.

This time of the year is very hard and especially Christmas. One of my triggers is dust and last year I didn't even put up my Christmas tree because I didn't want to risk it. This year, I did take it out of the box wearing gloves and didn't fluff it up to avoid the dust.

Even things like cooking the Christmas dinner can be hard because of the heat in the kitchen.

Certain foods can trigger it, too. I love cheese over Christmas, but I have to be careful, as that can lead to outbreaks."

Belfast Telegraph

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